Director General of the Standards Organization, of Nigeria, (SON), Mr. Osita Aboloma in a brief before the Industry ministers recently, requested among other things, the presence of SON at the nation’s sea ports. SON’s Director Operations, Mr. Dauda Yakubu tells Miriam Humbe that the absence of the Standards body at the ports paves way for harmful goods to flood our markets making it difficult to chase them out, prompting the need for government to review its policy to have the Standards body at the ports as it is obtainable in other climes. Excerpts:
SON has been making case for having its presence at the nation’s sea-ports, as requested by the Director General in his briefing before the Industry Ministers. Why is this necessary?
SON is established by an Act of the parliament to oversee the quality of goods imported and manufactured in the country. In doing that, there are two policies that guarantee that, like the MANCAP which is Mandatory Conformity Assessment Program for local manufacture of goods and SONCAP which is on offshore activities or SON Conformity Assessment Program for imported goods. All these programs are aimed to see that goods produced or imported into the country meet the minimum requirement of the standards. SON’s mandate is on quality. We ensure the quality of goods coming in to the country meet the minimum requirement of the standards and the minimum requirement of the standards vis a vis, have to do, apart from the physio-chemical properties of the sugar, the sugar meant for sale in Nigeria especially for consumers that will be sold in the market must be fortified with Vitamin A. In addition to Vitamin A, it must also have what is called the purity level which is allowed for it to be consumed. So based on those parameters, most of those products that are coming, once they are not fortified, they have not met the requirement of the standards, we will not allow them. Presently, we are not in the ports. SON is not in the Ports.
How will SON’s presence curb the importation and influx of substandard products into the country?
Actually, we need to be in the ports because there are some goods that need physical examination. At the end of the day, we checkmate issues of sharp practices, most especially products that cannot be scanned easily. You see the nature, the true picture of it through our scan. That’s one. Two, there are also products that fall under our regulatory requirements especially electric cables. You talk also of LPG gas cylinders. So these products apart from having the papers, there are physical examinations that are required for you to attest the quality of these, through physical examination. You find out that at the end of the day, Custom only call us at their will. This is different from the documentation we have added. Power level, we don’t have problem but the documentation, yes, if we are able to see what is required for us to add to, we can add. When it comes to products that need physical presence of SON for joint examination, we are at the mercy of Custom and it will not be good for the country for such goods to be allowed in and we are chasing it in the market and the main culprits that bring it, instead of nipping it in the bud, is allowed in. That’s what’s actually the case D-G makes, that all these regulatory products, when we are in the Ports, it is easier to control than when they are allowed inside. When it is already in, if you are lucky, you only get one or two. Others, if they are bad, they have what they may have before you are able to take remedial action. So we want proactive action to be taken. By allowing us in the ports, we will be able to prevent such things happening. That’s why we are looking at, at least, if the government review our policies, just like in other climes. If you look at even Kenya, in Kenya, Customs cannot even place anything for examination without clearance form their Standards body. Their standards body has access to any import coming in. They okay it quality-wise before Customs go in. But that is not the case here.
How is the working relationship between SON and the Nigeria Custom Service, towards ensuring the safety of impotrs?
Actually there is presently an understanding between us and Customs, but we are now saying that most of the understanding is based on the triporter. We have access to that triporter just like any other agency. Whatever others can see, we can see. Things that are of interest to us, we can show interest, ‘look, we want this,’ and it is observed on that. But we are now also saying, there are some products that require physical examination on site, which we need to be there. A clear example is regulatory products like cables. There may be wrong declaration of cables or even tyres. Like the ones we confiscated last year, it was coded. They do post- coding of those tyres. So our officers were vigilant and they were able to say, ‘look, this thing, yes, even if its produced, it is not supposed to have reached the country by this time’. So they intervened. So it is important that we need to be there.
Talking of cables, what is the update on Sunrise cables which were supposed to be confiscated from the markets some months ago?
Actually, what Operations does is to coordinate the activities of the other departments, most especially, of imports through the Ports and borders. But, since we are not in the ports, as I have said, most of these things are ever smuggled in. Some, through the land borders, some through sea. Since we are not in the ports, we may not be everywhere to cover everything. So those we are able to see, we sample at the Port, we test. Those that have SONCAP, we are aware of them that they exist, then the ones that maybe escaped us, through our market surveillance, in all the state offices, we detect them. Once we suspect them, we purchase and send to our Labs. Once it is tested and it fails, we raise an alarm, saying, this product is not safe for use. So the case of Sunrise cables is like that. They are products that came into the country, they’re imported from China, the samples were taken and they were tested, they failed. So we want to alert Nigerians that we have picked these samples, we have tested, they have not met the quality of the Standards so Nigeria should be aware. It is ongoing. We call it Red Alert. That is what I always do. I collaborate with the Lab always. I requested from them, please, all the cables that came into the country, that have been tested, we want to see the performance of all of them. So from, maybe, more than 200, or 300 different containers and sizes and brands, we look at it and then we are able to extract those that failed. From there, they will send it to me. I will compile it and look at the sizes, the brand names, then the sizes which we call the conductor diameter and the fail parameters. With that, I will now alert all the state offices seeing that I oversee the affairs of activities at the states and regional offices. Presently, there are ongoing raids nationwide on electrical cables, not only Sunrise. The list I have here, there are about 34 different brands and sizes of cables that are being moped up now. There are some that are unbranched, there are some that are called Carmel, Naco, Oconite, Libra, Nikon, Ugochris, various brands of cables. Those that we have not seen them, they have not been registered with us, we don’t have any documentation on them on our registration, we are asking them to quarantine, take the inventory, and take sample for lab tests. All we are doing is to ensure the safety of Nigerians.
What are the punitive measures suitable for offenders, importers of harmful goods?
For offenders, definitely, our decree is clear and the offences vary because even if you look at these cables, we have those that fail performance requirement, there are those that fail also, safety. There are some that fail marking. So their panerity is not the same. For those that fail marking requirement and assuming they pass performance and safety, we now rectify those products. As a consumer, you have the right to information so that you can know how best you can use it. In that case, we will now put that product on hold, ensure rectification is carried out before it is allowed outside. But when it fails performance safety, definitely there is no issue of rectification. It is for destruction. In that case, we are not only going to destroy it, following the due process, we will also prosecute offenders based on our laws. So definitely those we mop up and we found out that they import substandard cables, they will be prosecuted accordingly.
How can the consumer get compensation as a result of loss accruing from the use of such substandard products?
It is expected that as a consumer, when you buy any product, you are supposed to have a receipt. During the course of service, if there is failure, with that receipt, you can tender. We will now come as experts, look at it with what remain there, because in electrical cables, example, the marking is very important. If you pick an average cable that meet our minimum requirement like any Nigerian cable, on it, you will see embossment of the Nigerian cable whether it is Nocaco, you will see it embossed. After it you will see the sizes. You may see 2 x 1.5mm, or 1.5mm. Its just telling you that this cable you are buying, this is the size and it is good to be used for this purpose. Like for lightening, you use 1 mm and 1.5. But for sockets, you can not use it. You have to use minimum, 2.5 mm. That is the essence of that marking, that for traceability, the embossment of that company tells you that this is the company that produced that. So in case there are problems, we will not say where is this coming up. You know where you are going. The same applies to all life endangering products such as the steel bars, called iron rods. Whenever there is building collapse, we go there. We assess how it failed and take samples of the concrete and the steel bars and send to our Labs for testing. From there we know the quality of the mixing, whether they followed the mixing ratio of sand and cement and gravel. We also look at the steel bar used. Does it meet our minimum requirement of the standards. So there will be preliminary examination which we have a template which we assess on that, then we take the sample to our Labs and analyze and bring it back. Presently, I have two cases which I am handling on a building collapse site which we have to get some of those iron rods and we have looked at them, critically assessed them. By the time we assessed, we found out that one or two of the iron rods failed. And definitely we will trace it to the manufacturer. It is traceable to the manufacturer because it is a policy of the government by SON that all the iron rods are traceable to the manufacturer. From there we know who supplied what. That is how we now report, either to the agency of government or another regulator that need information or even to the legal entity. We investigate and come up with our findings. We are a technical organization, we are experts so we act based on our mandate. The Nigerian electrical cable is the best in the whole world. But we have Nigerians that do not have the interest of this country at heart, are going to China, cloning those certified wires in Nigeria and also bringing in substandard ones. That is actually where we are. We have to work hard, 24 hours. I will tell you, most of the agencies of government are sensitized, they are also keying into it. Like the Nigerian Customs, even if they see cables, they don’t clear it. They alert us. We work in collaboration with them too. The collaboration may not be enough, but we collaborate with most of these agencies of government, and we are making progress. Just imagine, all these substandard cables brought in, you have market infernos. It is as a result of this. The dry season is approaching where you have fire outbreaks here and there, and markets engulfed in fire. It is as a result of substandard electrical cables. This is a very serious problem which the D-G of SON and the management are not taking lightly.
How can the markets and dry-season fire outbreaks be minimised?
If you stop the substandard materials coming in, to unsuspecting customers, you have addressed almost 80 percent of the problem. Of course, we may have issues of workmanship where the wiring and other things may not be well done. When you look at the quality of the material and it is well done then you can be rest assured. Just like the steel bars, definitely, the one that is unbranded, it clearly shows that it is not from Nigeria. It is smuggled. But the one that is branded, we know the company. So it clearly shows from even our monitoring, that our certification process is effective.
How much enlightenment has SON done to sensitize the consuming public?
In each of the sectors, we create awareness on the dangers of patronising substandard products. Some few weeks ago, we did that of tyres for automobiles. You may see a tyre looks new, but you won’t know that it is about expiring. Most people don’t know that tyres do expire. We have gone even to the dealers, traders, to tell them, look, if you are to buy tyres, look at the code. When you see four figures there, this is what it means. We decode it for you. If you see 0414, its telling you that the type was prodiced in the 4th week of 2014. If you see it labelled 27 or 3617, its telling you that tyre was produced in the 36th week of 2017. This we tell them so that it guides them on when the tyre will expire. On the tyre again, it has some marking that will guide you on the pressure that you put on that tyre. Each type produced has its own rated capacity. It has its own maximum speed limit indicated there. If you are not taught you will not know. It also has the maximum weight it can contain. If you are not taught, you will see the same tyre but it is not meant for the same purpose. Example, this cuts across from vulvanizers to the man selling, to transporters, NURTW, the owners and everybody. It involves everybody that cuts across to the value chain of tyre. We held this in Kano, North/East region. Other government agencies are interested in tyre. It’s not only SON. By law, Vehicle Inspection Service is interested in tyre. FRSC has interest in tyre. By law, the Nigeria police too. Now, we try to qualify what is product, standard, substandard product and other things. We now go to consumer rights. The consumer has the right of information. Any product you pick, you need to know the brand. It must be stated. You need to get the manufacturer’s name and address must be indicated there. Apart from these informations, it must include the ingredients. That is why even water, we insist on the ingredients being placed on the label to show the consumer, this is what it contains. They have to also indicate the storage conditions and you look at the clear contents, how many mls it contains, they mark it also, then batch number. For electrical products, apart from these, it must have manual and warranty. Based on our laws, any electrical products, the minimum guarantee is six months. If you buy anything, if not for wrong application, if it gets faulty, once it is less than six months, you have to write and seek redress. And you must be attended to.
Identifying genuineness of tyres, if you pick tyre, you will see some codes such as AS or TS, or you may just see P. All those ones are telling you, this is the application. If you see P, it is passenger or commercial car. If you see LT, it is for light truck. HT is mainly for SUV cars. They are for highways and rough terrain. Tokunbo tyres are substandard tyres. We don’t allow that. If you look at this, P215, this is telling you the width of that tyre on the ground. /165 tells you the height of the tyre from the ground. R15, R16 etc, is telling you rim 15 or 16 respectively.